Local Experiments: A World of Its Own, Photographic Practices in the Studio

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Man Ray. Laboratory of the Future. 1935. Gelatin silver print, 9 1/16 x 7″ (23.1 x 17.8 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of James Johnson Sweeney © 2014 Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Man Ray. Laboratory of the Future. 1935. Gelatin silver print, 9 1/16 x 7″ (23.1 x 17.8 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of James Johnson Sweeney © 2014 Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

The MOMA New York exhibition “A World of Its Own: Photographic Practices in the Studio” documents photographers’ adventures experimenting with the studio space

Who

Photographers, artists and videographers from all over the world including Harry Callahan, Julia Margaret Cameron, Robert Frank, Charles Ray, Cindy Sherman, Edward Steichen, William Wegman, and Edward Weston. And Man Ray above, no surprise this image has been chosen to lead-off the press release and articles like this. His 1935 photo “Laboratory of the Future”  of a reflective silvery orb ticks off the familiar visual shorthand of the crystal ball. But as an image and idea is it also prophetic in the way it nods to the idea of the necessity of experimentation. It suggests that what experiment gives is a creative reflection of self and practice that can be worked and learned from.

What

A World of Its Own: Photographic Practices in the Studio at MOMA. Over the last few years, the studio space of designers and illustrators, artists and artisans has been a source of fascination. From Adrian Shaughnessy’s Studio Culture to Art Studio America to The Selby’s photography of creatives in their homes and studios to Jennifer Causey’s The Maker’s project.

It’s partly driven by: a curiosity around how creatives make things; by the ‘behind-the-scenes’ culture that it might reveal the creative mystery; a sense that the imagination isn’t just something that happens in the mind but emerges from tangible local spaces.

The MOMA exhibition showcases how photographers have been exploiting their studios in new and exciting ways ever since the inception of photography. When studio photography is mentioned my mind immediately jumps to a blank background with studio lighting however this exhibit highlights the fact that you are bound only by your creativity. And creativity is sometimes being able to map a line through the chaos of the studio space as in this arrangement by Bruce Nauman.

Bruce Nauman. Composite Photo of Two Messes on the Studio Floor. 1967

Bruce Nauman. Composite Photo of Two Messes on the Studio Floor. 1967

Decisive Moment

Instantly you are greeted by an 8mm film of Romanian artist Greta Bratescu. The film is over 15 minutes long and despite my short attention span I watched mesmerised. The film depicts Bratescu moving around her studio in ways that would only make sense in her mind. It opened my eyes to the exhibit and the world of possibilities that come with a studio.

Trend

Underlying in the exhibit was the message that there are no boundaries. A studio is a space that can become whatever is needed creatively, whether that is a playground, stage or laboratory. It can be a neutral space with the power to strip down the subject to their most pure and isolated form, as in this image by Harry Callahan.

Photographer HARRY CALLAHAN, Eleanor, 1948

Photographer HARRY CALLAHAN, Eleanor,
1948

Or the experiments in light and shadow using cut paper by Francis Bruguière where the most ethereal and flimsiest of matter (light and paper) is given a steely, sharp-edged form by studio practice.

francis

Francis Bruguière. Light Abstraction. c. 1925. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Arnold Newman © 1991 Kenneth H. Bruguière and Kathleen Bruguière Anderson

Or the ghostly drama of Adrian Piper’s performances, where she fasted over a period of months and documented the apparition of herself in front of a mirror.

374.1998.2

Adrian Piper. Food for the Spirit #2. 1971. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Family of Man Fund. © 2014 Adrian Piper

Art Meets Commerce

The most obvious example is one which has already been the subject of serious argument when Peter Fischli and David Weiss’s film “The Way Things Go”, took umbrage at what they saw as the similarity of the chain reaction in the 2003 Honda “Cog”advertisement by Weiden and Kennedy – was it a chain reaction to the chain reaction? How life imitates art.

Pop philosopher Marshall McLuhan observed that newer media turn older media into an art form so consider this abstraction by Christian Marclay exploring the material of analogue culture – the cassette tape. There is still plenty of mileage and appeal for advertisers in the nostalgia for analogue culture.

Christian Marclay. Allover (Genesis, Travis Tritt, and others). 2008. Cyanotype, 51 1/2 x 97 3/4″ (130.8 x 248.3 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Acquired through the generosity of Steven A. and Alexandra M. Cohen. © 2014 Christian Marclay.jpg

Christian Marclay. Allover (Genesis, Travis Tritt, and others). 2008. Cyanotype, 51 1/2 x 97 3/4″ (130.8 x 248.3 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Acquired through the generosity of Steven A. and Alexandra M. Cohen. © 2014 Christian Marclay

Question for the artists

Some of the pieces within the exhibit were created in a home studio. I personally find motivation hard to come by when I’m at home. Do you find having a studio ever limits your ideas? Or do the added comforts of home spur creativity?

A World of Its Own: Photographic Practices in the Studio, MOMA

Uta Barth. Sundial (2007.13). 2007. Three chromogenic color prints, each 30 x 28 1/4″ (76.2 x 71.8 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Photography Council Fund. © 2014 Uta Barth

Uta Barth. Sundial (2007.13). 2007. Three chromogenic color prints, each 30 x 28 1/4″ (76.2 x 71.8 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Photography Council Fund. © 2014 Uta Barth

 

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